Here we go again. Another Ryder Cup looms on the horizon; another Scot is the talk of the golfing steamie. And, just like Stephen Gallacher for Gleneagles two years ago, you’ve got to think things are starting to look very promising indeed for Russell Knox in his bid to make Darren Clarke’s team for Hazeltine at the end of next month.
Gallacher, of course, earned one of Paul McGinley’s picks on merit after he came within a whisker of getting in under his own steam and surely Knox, having probably staked an even stronger case based on wins, world ranking and points positions, also now has to be among the three names Clarke will announce at the of this month.
Having shown the form the European captain had been looking for from some of the more experienced contenders in a year-long qualifying race that still has three weeks to run, both Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer will claim two of those spots and rightly so.
The Ryder Cup, after all, clearly brings out the best in them. Westwood has been on the winning team seven times in nine appearances. Kaymer has enjoyed that feeling all three times he’s played in it and, of course, secured that famous victory at Medinah four years ago.
Which leaves one berth up for grabs and who can really argue against Knox’s name being on that after he became the closest player to the last of the nine automatic qualifiers, currently Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, after his dramatic victory on Sunday in the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour?
The win alone was impressive as he kept his nerve to roll in a 12-foot par putt at the last at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, to come from three shots behind heading into the final round.
But, consider a few of the statistics generated by it and you can surely see why the Scot is hoping it is going to be “very difficult” for Clarke not to pick him.
For starters, Knox has risen to 18th in the world rankings, where only five other Europeans – Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose – are now higher than him. Just in case you don’t spot it, four of them, of course, are major winners.
He’s also in good company in terms of players who’ve recorded multiple wins on the PGA Tour this season, joining Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott on that particular list and, remember, we are talking here about the toughest circuit in world golf.
Add in the fact that he’s now fourth behind world No 1 Day, US Open champion Johnson and former Masters champion Scott in the FedEx Cup standings on the US circuit and it really is difficult to see him being overlooked by Clarke.
The one thing that is working against Knox, of course, is the fact that the nine automatic qualifiers, if things stay as they are at the moment with just the Czech Masters and the Made in Denmark to come on this side of the Atlantic as well as the John Deere Classic and the Wyndham Championship in the US, will include five rookies, namely Willett, Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan.
That being the case, you’ve got to think that Clarke would ideally liked to see someone like Graeme McDowell, or even Francesco Molinari, heading the queue for that third pick, but the fact this particular match is being played in America, where Knox has been based since he went to college in Jacksonville and transformed his game, has to be a plus factor. So, too, surely does the fact that he has the demeanour and personality that makes you believe that he wouldn’t be a rabbit caught in the headlights.
He’s a bubbly, infectious character who’d fit in well in a team environment and Europe’s great strength in the Ryder Cup over the past 20 years has been a terrific togetherness rather than trying to rely on individuals within that group.
It all comes down to one man, of course. Clarke will make the call he feels is right, as McGinley did when he selected Gallacher, the player on form at that time, at the expense of Luke Donald for Gleneagles.
By all accounts, Clarke is relying heavily on all sorts of data and, if it comes down to that rather than a gut instinct, then surely opportunity will Knox for the Scot in Minnesota at the end of next month.